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Clowns, Dolls, and Nuns

Few evil entities can beat the unholy trifecta of clowns, dolls, and nuns — and we look at some of the most insidious and iconic in horror.

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What’s supposed to be fun or kind but turns out to be terrifying? Clowns, dolls, and nuns, of course! Hiding behind a playful or holy façade, we have horrors lurking on this list of circus stalkers, sentient dolls, and cursed nuns. From It to Valak, I’ve tried to find the standouts of the not-so-scary things that end up being frightening.

Phobias are one thing; I personally always found clowns odd, porcelain dolls creepy, and ventriloquist dummies insufferable. But these movies find clever, comedic, or killer ways to turn once-safe or proud figures into monsters.

Find your favorite stuffed animal, put on your clown shoes, and say a prayer; these were the most prominent clowns, dolls, and nuns the genre has offered us in the past several decades.

If I missed someone special, feel free to comment if your most memorable viewing experience was with these tricky toys, or give us your harshest anecdotes from Catholic school.

Clowns

It (Pennywise)

Pennywise the Clown was brought to life in Stephen King’s 1986 smash hit novel “It”, an alternative moniker for this timeless, ancient, morphing entity that feeds not only fear but itself approximately every 30 years.

Played by Tim Curry in the 1990 television movie version of King’s work, and decades later in 2017 and 2019 in the sequel, envisioned with Bill Skarsgard donning the signature clown costume, balloons in hand. Pennywise, while not a clown per se, chooses this form to persuade children to get closer. They’ll flee if they’re frightened, and adults are much harder to seduce, making this choice of a children’s birthday performer a perfect one for a predatory being.

With a goofy voice and a vicious tendency for manipulation, Pennywise and his arsenal of shapeshifting choices make him a terrible foe to face. However, I can name fewer more famous clowns that have created such a body count than he has in the centuries this beast has been rising, terrorizing, and feasting on those too naïve to know a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Rent IT (2017) on VOD.

Terrifier (Art the Clown)

Both this film’s titular villain and its director personally strangled me for a photo opportunity this year in a beautiful personal tribute to this next vicious clown (see photographic evidence below).

New to the scene as far as clowns go, Art the Clown (David Howard Thornton) made a splash, small at first in All Hallows Eve, but growing exponentially larger with every new movie Damien Leone concocts for our supernaturally sunny serial killer.

The Terrifier series, expecting its third Christmas-based installment in October of 2024, promises a whole new mess of splatter and a new holiday for Art to paint red. The films that called for vomit bags and caused many a theater walkout are well known for their successful use of over-the-top practical effects to create the bloodiest scenes in modern horror.

I’d have to say if you’re a modern horror fan and don’t know who Art the Clown is… test your stomach and have a watch.

Maybe more like a mime than a clown as Art doesn’t speak, or make any sounds for that matter, I still count him as one of the most disturbing, memorable, and deadly circus freaks out there currently — and with Leone at the helm, I expect more clown shooed, tip toeing, trash bag toting, gore shenanigans than I can handle.

Watch for free on Tubi.

Clown

The 2014 supernatural thriller Clown was directed by John Watts in his directorial debut with production backing from the splatter master himself, Eli Roth.

The story goes that Kent McCoy had a normal life before his young son’s birthday party. When the performer they hire cancels the event, Kent finds an old clown costume in the basement and decides to put on a show himself. Exhausted, Kent sleeps in the suit and awakes to find it won’t come off, even having to attend work and finding slowly that trying to remove the costume harms him. With the wig becoming his hair and an insatiable appetite in him growing, Kent needs to find a way to sever himself from the suit before it’s too late.

Overall, labeled as a middling disappointment, I thought Clown and its ideas about possession and metamorphosis were interesting and shook up the killer circus angle quite a bit. But according to other sources, even the best practical effects and makeup can’t dress this movie up enough for an encore, but maybe you should still score a first viewing to decide.

Watch for free on Tubi.

Killer Klowns From Outer Space

Considered a cult classic, the 1988 sci-fi horror comedy Killer Klowns From Outer Space touched down on earth with a silly and scary message.

One night, near the town of Crescent Cove, several people spotted a large, bright, flying object plummeting to earth. A farmer goes to the crash site to investigate but is greeted with a circus tent instead of a meteor and is shortly taken hostage by the alien, clown-costumed friends that call themselves “clowns.” With tricks like turning an audience into miniatures during a shadow puppet show or bringing a balloon dog to life, it’s hard not to admire the level of creativity put into the creation of what sounds like a supremely silly movie.

Killer Klowns from Outer Space. The title alone screams 80’s popcorn movie, but with such surprisingly high ratings, you might surprise yourself if you choose to watch this genre mash-up generating otherworldly clown creatures.

Clowns? Aliens? I’m going by the costume. They may not be from Earth, but they sure can rock a red nose.

Watch for free on Tubi.

Hell House LLC Series

The 2015 found footage gem Hell House LLC from Stephen Cognetti was a surprise hit with tons of scares and shockers.

The story follows five young haunted house creators looking to begin their next venture by repurposing the infamous Abaddon Hotel in upstate New York. When the team arrives, spirits are high, but soon, spirits of a different kind seem to be running rampant in the hotel, reaching a climax on opening night and creating a mystery to keep the public wondering for years.

It’s three guests that are in the hotel on arrival that take this spot on the list: the clowns of Hell House LLC. Ugly, creepy, dirty, and abandoned, the circus freaks are found in the basement of the hotel with no real explanation for their appearance. Soon, the clowns begin to make their presence known, supposedly unable to move not even so much as to turn their heads, the mannequins begin to move around without explanation, heads turning and stalking to the crew day and night.

With these demonic-looking ghouls present in every single Hell House film up through this year, Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor, they are a fixture in this franchise and take a top spot as some of the scariest and most deceptive members of the house with arguably the most unnerving presentation.

Watch the series on Shudder.

Stitches

A revenge story for the underdog, Stitches, directed by Conor McMahon and released in 2012, is a tragic, horrifying, and sometimes comedic tale of the hardest parts of being a clown.

Richard Grindle or “Stitches”, his stage name, is preparing for a boy’s birthday party. Instead of laughing with him, the children ridicule the man, pulling a cruel prank that ultimately leads to his grisly death. It’s later discovered that there’s a way to resurrect Stitches, as a group of clowns uses a painted egg to complete a ritual allowing Stitches to return from the grave… and a joke is never as funny the second time. Now given a new life and a chance at revenge, Stitches rises on the boy’s 16th birthday, prepared to celebrate the end of their lives.

A work that received below-average reviews, Stitches doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not: a classic B-movie with an undead, vengeful clown.

Watch on Prime Video or stream for free on Tubi.

Haunt

Haunt

While not everyone was wearing a clown mask, this movie put the fear of god in me when I realized the masks were what was hiding the true horror.

Haunt is the classic tale of a rustic, undiscovered haunted attraction that lures in a group of youngsters. Giving up their phones and entering an abandoned, tricked-out haunted house, this party is about to get gruesome when the scares start to feel anything but fake. The horror behind the clowns is the way these people chose to display themselves and how they altered themselves for presentation. Body modification, skinning, tattooing, piercing, cutting, searing, scarring, and burning are all, from the looks of it, a part of the antagonists’ game.

One of them has clearly sliced the tip off his nose, creating a permanent clown-like appearance with the bloody exposed tip. That’s commitment.

Watch on Prime Video or Hulu.

Dolls  

M3GAN (Megan)